I do love the colours of Autumn when the leaves on the trees blaze crazily on the road to hibernation (or whatever trees do when the weather is cold and the days short). It is my considered opinion that this entrancing display of vibrant colour is Nature’s way of consoling us for what is to come ahead … Winter. There is something very biblical, I think, about the onset of the cold season … it serves remind us that, fancy that!, there ARE seasons, and that change is the only constant. As Ecclesiastes 3 tells us: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun. Look on the bright side …
Food is our everyday medicine, and a nice-tasting one at that, and so it is important that we seek food that can nourish us into warming our souls and revive the sweetness of our basic nature that so often subsides into submission when the cold weather sets in. Grapes will do that to you (wine too, but I’m talking about fresh grapes now), as will pumpkin or squash. Blend the two together, in a risotto, and you can have yourself something very playful.
The traditional way of weighing one portion of rice for an Italian risotto used to be “due pugni di riso”, i.e. two fistfuls of rice per person. Not very helpful because hands vary in size, but there you are. A good average is 80g per person and this is a reliable amount which I can recommend with good conscience. When it comes to the other ingredients for a risotto, I’m afraid that it very much depends on what the risotto is all about and that the ‘eye’ must, therefore, be the final arbiter of things. So take a good look at the photos of this recipe, and you will be able to make a very educated guess on how much of every ingredient is required.
The first thing to do is make either a vegetable stock (1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stick, 1 tomato and any other vegetable of your choice) or a chicken or meat stock. For this risotto, a vegetable stock will do just fine. Keep it handy, on a simmer, so that you can pour it into the risotto when needed.
I used about 280g (ahem, that was 6 fistfuls ….) of Carnaroli Italian rice (you could also use Arborio or Vialone Nano). The rice’s cooking time is about 20 minutes from start to finish.
A bowl of grapes, some very good quality olive oil (I used my dear friend Liz’s excellent “Tenuta Colle Maria”), and a bowlful of cooked butternut squash (which I had previously steamed).
You will need … about 4 sage leaves, 1 glass of either red or white wine and 2-3 anchovies packed in oil.
Drizzle a little oil and sprinkle some salt directly over the grapes and shake the container so that they glisten with this coating.
Roughly chop 1 large onion directly into a saucepan into which you have drizzled plenty of olive oil. Also add 1 tablespoon of butter, a peppercorn (if you like – I like!), and a pinch of cinnamon. Turn the heat on …
Cook the onion until it softens and do not allow it to brown …
Add the squash … and combine.
Add the well oiled and salted grapes … combine all the ingredients and cook for a couple of minutes and then switch off the heat and set aside.
Drizzle some oil into another saucepan and add the rice all in one go. The heat is a strong one and the rice needs to get properly ‘toasted’ so that it won’t go soggy when the liquid part of the recipe is added later on.
The rice turns pearly white when toasted … it can take up to 5 minutes depending on the amount of rice. Use a wooden spoon to stir everything up and make sure that the rice gets coated in the olive oil.
Now pour in the wine …
When the wine has evaporated, add the sage leaves.
Then, immediately after that, add one ladle of your boiling broth … either meat stock or vegetable stock. Stir the rice non-stop until the rice has completely absorbed the stock. Then add a second ladleful and repeat the process.
When you have poured in the third ladleful, add the anchovies. Stir them around until they dissolve. At this point you don’t have to stir too much, but do keep an eye on your risotto. The idea is to keep adding as much stock as is required for the risotto to be ‘creamy’ in consistency. It must not dry out, in other words.
About 7 minutes before the end of the rice’s cooking time …. add the squash and the grapes:
Now is the time to start stirring, almost constantly. Add more stock as required.
Keep the heat quite high, taste the risotto, and add salt and pepper as necessary.
When the cooking time is up, switch the heat off … and add a huge amount of butter (2 tablespoons).
Stir vigorously until all the butter has melted.
Add heaps of freshly grated parmesan cheese … combine and give it one last stir.
Now cover the risotto with a lid and let it rest for about 4-5 minutes (giving you time to wash your hands, tidy yourself up, sip a glass of wine and call everyone to hurry up and come to the table).
Add a sprig of sage to the risotto, together with another shower of freshly grated parmesan cheese … and serve.
Very pretty don’t you think? Creamy too … tasty …. and, yes, healthy too! Enjoy.